Thursday, July 22, 2010

Ailments. How I got fat. Recoveries. How I got skinny. Aging. How I got hurt.

I don't really remember what month it was, but the year was 2003. I was living in a condo in Carmel Valley with my friends Lee and Kent. Lee had recently been laid off from his job at a data storage company and had decided to venture into business for himself. Lee's initial business idea was to sell brushed aluminum picture frames that he had modified with a bit of hardware so that they created a sort of 3-D montage. Some us wrinkled our foreheads wondering how this was going to be a viable source of income. But he kept at other designs and found a niche designing and manufacturing decorative waterfalls... the kind that you see in the lobbies of restaurants or as accent pieces in living rooms, or elevator alcoves in hotels... etc.

One afternoon I was helping him move one of his very first waterfalls. It was this Goliath creation, that was almost more like an 8 ft tall fish tank. Just as I bent down to begin to lift one end from the bed of his truck... something moved in my lower back. Its hard to describe other than to say it felt like I had been shot. Every nerve and muscle from my neck down to my ankles tensed up and I nearly collapsed, unable to even support my own weight, which was about 170 lbs. at the time. Lee helped me hobble back to the front seat of his car where I sort of crumpled into a pile, and bit down on a rolled up towel to quiet the blood-curdling screams. When I finally got to the ER, x-rays would show that there had been movement of the vertebrae in my lower spine. Basically one of the higher vertebrae had slipped out of place and downward, impinging on the dense network of nerves that attached to muscles throughout my back and legs. They doctor went on to say that this appeared to be the result of a inherited genetic condition where the spinal canal in my lumbar lower vertebrae was smaller than it should be, exacerbating the impingement of the nerves. Lack of exercise had allowed the muscles in the area to become weak, which would normally hold the bone and cartilage in place, but some of the heavy lifting had put enough stress on the spine to move things around a bit. I was immobile for days, while I lay in traction. Traction is a process where a harness is attached to your torso, and another to your hips. Tension is applied to pull the two harness in opposite directions. This tension increases over the course of the treatment. In essence, it stretches you apart, not unlike a medieval torture device called "The Rack". They loaded me up on muscle relaxers and pain meds, and I was able to walk again. Then came the tricky part. There wasn't any real rehab that could be done, because the area was so weak and unstable that even the gentlest movements could cause it to happen all over again. Basically I had to "take it easy" until the ligaments and supporting tissues had time to heal and tighten back up.

So take it easy I did. I basically stopped exercising all together. It wasn't like I really could have anyways, since the radiating pain was basically there every day. I did what I could with lumbar supports while I was driving and sitting. Since I was mostly sedentary anyways, I started playing lots of poker. It fulfilled my need for competition without any physical strain. My eating habits suffered and I gained weight. Over the next few years I ballooned up to 205 lbs and went from a 32 waist to a 38. I was fat and lazy. Much of the pain in my back had subsided, but the habits stayed. Taking good care of health had fallen from the list of priorities. My life had become a sort of mundane routine that I had accepted. Conditions at my job had become intolerable, as the union that represented me was at odds with the company. A full on standoff came about and the tension level that I had to endure every day left me emotionally exhausted when I got home.

In late 2006, I decided to make a change and left Channel 10 to take a job at a new division of Qualcomm as a Satellite Engineer. Shortly afterwards I went through a tough break-up. The stress from changing careers and the depression from the personal issues took a physical toll on me. I lost my appetite and could barely eat. This persisted for weeks. I started to exercise again. The endorphins and associated euphoria I felt after a long run was the only thing that I really looked forward to I would run for miles and miles on the treadmill or Eliptical trainer. I lost 40 lbs in less than two months. I started strength training and with the missing weight was able to build up my back muscles in hopes of preventing a recurrence of the injury that started the whole thing. My endurance and stamina increased. I began jogging more regularly. I took up tennis. Fitness became a part of my regular daily routine. By the late part of 2007, I had dropped nearly 60 lbs of fat and gained about 20 lbs of muscle, staying right around 157 lbs with about 9-10% body fat. At 30 years old I was in the best shape of my life... less than one year after being in the worst shape of my life.

In 2008, I ran in a 10k at Camp Pendleton. Somewhere in the middle of the course I tweaked my knee. By the end of the race it was throbbing. I stayed off it for weeks before trying to jog again. A few miles in I began to feel the pressure build up. I stayed off it for a long time... before very slowly starting to integrate jogging back into my fitness routine... but I was always cognizant of the problems my right knee seemed to give me when I ran long distances. In 2010, I ran in the San Diego Rock n Roll Half Marathon. Around mile 2 I started feeling the pressure in the knee... much earlier than usual. By mile 7 I could not continue and had to drop out. The swelling was worse than it had ever been and I could see the pocket of fluid that had built up on the outside part of me knee. The pain subsided in a day or so, but there is a lingering tenderness there even now that is new. I don't generally have any problems when playing tennis or soccer, but I feel small twinges of stiffness from time to time. I had x-rays taken the other day, which might not show anything at all. Its likely I will need an MRI to see if there is any damage to the ligament or muscles in the knee. If so, its likely I will undergo a common arthroscopic surgery to repair the ligament or clean the cartilage. I have been told the recovery time is short and that I should be back out playing sports in a couple of months. Friends that have had the surgery say that their knees felt better than ever afterwards.

Next on the docket is the localized pain that I am feeling in my lower back. It is far different from the pain associated with the injury 7 years ago. There is a persisting an acute pain on a specific point on my spine. I can feel it on the bone itself. Of course the orthopedist will only "treat one injury at a time" so as to get paid for the most office visits. Same for the radiology and why I have to pay for x-rays in cases where its very likely an MRI will be needed. It could be lots of different things... so no freaking out just yet.

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